The fatal shooting of 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal by Salt Lake City Police on May 23, just two days before the killing of George Floyd, joined a string of nationwide incidents involving alleged excessive force by police.
People gathered on June 27 at the corner of 900 South and 300 West, where Palacios-Carbajal died, to protest his killing and others who have died at the hands of police. This was one of dozens of protests organized throughout the summer to demand justice for Bernardo.
This day, 18-year-old Sofia Alcala called out a litany of police infractions on a megaphone. The crowd stood and listened while holding signs in support of victims. “Abolish police now,” said one sign, while another said “No Justice, No Peace.” Many simply said, “Justice for Bernardo.”
Hailee Ariana Kennedy stood in front of the crowd that day and tearfully spoke about Palacios-Carbajal as a talented artist and caring friend. They met when they were young, spent time growing up together and maintained a sibling-like relationship.
Her voice quivered as she recounted how much Palacios-Carbajal was loved and the impact he made on those close to him. “He was the best person I’ve ever met,” she said.
Kennedy appreciated the support of people at the protest, because it brought more attention to Palacios-Carbajal’s death. She keeps in contact with the family and said the situation has been very difficult for them.
Kennedy feels outrage over what happened to Palacios-Carbajal. Watching the bodycam videos took an emotional toll on her and she copes by supporting his cause and making flyers. “I want all of this to stop. No more shootings,” she said.
For some people in the crowd, the issue had a broader scope. “I believe it is a race issue and a systemic issue,” said Chase Breinholt, who represented his late brother Chad at the protest. He said that the systemic issue stems from legal protections set in place to protect police officers, and that those protections prevent accountability, leaving friends and families of victims wanting for justice.
Police killed Michael Chad Breinholt while in custody at the West Valley Police Department in August of 2019.
Chad’s brother, Chase Breinholt, and his family have yet to see any progress in the case. His mother relocated to Chicago, and Chase goes to school in Oregon which makes it difficult for the family to represent Chad in Utah.
“We just need Chad’s name to be included,” said Chase, who is originally from Kearns but traveled from Oregon for the protest. “My brother didn’t deserve to die.”
Madelyn Boudreaux and her spouse Rhuarc Garmsten have witnessed many protests against police brutality and tributes to victims in the form of murals across the street from their home. They live just north of the parking lot on 300 West where Palacios-Carbajal was killed. Although they did not directly witness the shooting, they heard it.
“I was awake watching television when it happened,” said Boudreaux. She ran to see the commotion and when she saw the police vehicles arriving at the scene, she went back into the house.
“The entire bedroom was filled with police lights bouncing off the walls,” said Garmsten, who woke up after hearing what sounded like fireworks outside.
Boudreaux was glad the protests were taking place. Despite the imperfections of the justice system, she says being killed by police is no alternative.
During the march on June 27, Boudreaux and Garmsten offered water and hand sanitizer to supporters. As the crowds chanted “Justice for Bernardo,” “Justice for Cody” and “Justice for Everybody,” passing cars honked in support.
More people arrived on foot and bicycle to participate and show their support. Almost all wore masks to protect themselves and others from the novel coronavirus during the march.
The crowd began marching north on 300 West, blocking traffic along the way. The march moved west onto 800 South and stopped at a memorial for Palacios-Carbajal, where faces of several people killed by law enforcement were painted on the walls of the Salt Lake City fleet building by a group of anonymous artists.
As the march paused, an unidentified woman stood in front of the crowd and called out Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall for inaction. The crowd booed the mayor.
A statement from Mendenhall on July 9 said that while she empathized with Palacios-Carbajal’s family, she agreed with Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill that the shooting was justified.
“Mr. Gill has done his job according to the system we elected him to work within,” Mendenhall said in her statement, “and he has determined that the officers involved did their jobs according to the system we hired and trained them to work within.”
She said that she was given great confidence as “we work to reform for greater justice and a more equitable city” and the police department “will continue to follow their training and the law as those standards evolve.”
The same day, the mayor’s statement of support for Gill’s ruling prompted a public outcry. Protestors shattered windows at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office. They splattered red paint around the building. Flyers with Palacios-Carbajal’s face were taped over the doors as well as on the outside walls of the building. People wrote “too much blood,” “no more bodies,” and “abolish all cops” throughout the property, and plastered red hand prints around the building.
In August, Gill charged nine protesters for criminal mischief and rioting in connection with the vandalism of his office building. Several individuals were charged with first-degree felonies with a gang enhancement, meaning they faced sentences of five years to life in prison. Those charges were later reduced by retired 3rd District Judge Dane Nolan.
In late September, attorneys for the Palacios-Carbajal family filed a wrongful-death suit against the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Friends and family remain determined to prevail in their cause for justice. “[I’m] just trying to light his path,” said his friend, Kennedy, knowing that despite her and the family’s best efforts, they cannot bring Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal back.
Story updated October 16, 2020